Let nature help you with your spring planting

March 23, 2023

Deirdre Irwin speaking to the camera

District Water Conservation Coordinator Deirdre Irwin shares tips for saving water in your garden this spring.

Are your fingers itching to grab the trowel? Do you take a detour to the nursery as you do errands? If so, you are not alone. Spring is in the air, and it’s a great time to be outside. If garden projects are in your future, we have some tips for ways to help your plants thrive while saving you time and water.

First, let nature do the work for you
  • Delay until May (or even June) big planting projects. “Florida’s dry season is March, April and May,” says Deirdre Irwin, Water Conservation Coordinator with the St. Johns River Water Management District. “Use this time to prep and plan, and by waiting to plant, you’ll save yourself time and money watering, as rainfall will take care of that chore for you.”
  • Use a rain sensor or smart irrigation controller: Ever see sprinklers running in a rainstorm? There’s a simple way to stop that — replace your rain sensor. “By law, irrigation systems installed after 1991 must have a sensor, but these must be replaced periodically. Alternatively, consider an upgrade to a smart irrigation controller. These save water by getting an up-to-date weather forecast from your wi-fi. Some local utilities offer rebates for irrigation controller upgrades,” says Irwin.
  • Try a rain barrel: Capture some of those summer rains in a rain barrel that you can use to hand water planters or other areas when they need it.
  • Put down mulch: “You can use mulch to replicate what happens in a forest where plants survive periods of no rain without any problem,” says Irwin. “A layer of mulch 2–4 inches thick will not only help the soil around your plants hold moisture but also keep weeds down and even add nutrients.”
Don’t force it — put the right plant in the right place
  • Check your USDA Hardiness Zone and choose plants recommended for that area.
  • Are your plants sun-lovers or shade-dwellers? Whether planning a new bed or just freshening up an existing section, consider the amount of sun or shade each area gets and choose your plants accordingly. Find more information through the Florida-Friendly Landscaping Program.
  • Drought-tolerant species: By selecting plants and putting them in a location that suits their needs, they become drought-tolerant, and you’ll save money in watering. Check water use information for different plants on the Waterwise landscaping database.
  • “You can’t go wrong with native plants and wildflowers,” says Irwin. “They are well-adapted for Florida’s growing conditions and attract butterflies and hummingbirds to your yard.“
Drip irrigation spout

Drip irrigation puts water directly in the root zone to help save water.

rain shut-off sensor attached to a roof

A rain shut-off sensor will help you save water by turning off your irrigation system when it is raining.

Mulched landscape with small bushes

A Florida-Friendly landscape includes mulch to help keep moisture in planting beds.

Irrigate smart
  • Faster is not always better: Upgrade to drip irrigation in your plant beds, as it applies the water more slowly to the root zone where it is needed, rather than spraying all over the surface of the leaves or mulch. “No matter how much you water mulch, you’ll never get a cypress tree,” says Irwin.
  • Check for leaks, coverage and alignment: Spend a few minutes checking your irrigation system while it’s running for any leaks (sprinkler heads that aren’t working or don’t have enough water pressure, or if you have flooded areas in your yard), and make sure that any spray nozzles are overlapping enough (spray from one head should reach the next head), and that nozzles are adjusted to hit the grass rather than the sidewalk or side of your house.
  • Care for new plantings: According to Irwin, irrigation guidelines allow you to water new plantings daily for the first month, then every other day during the second month. After that point, regular watering restrictions apply. But again, if you can delay until May, you’ll save yourself time and money by letting the rain take care of some of the watering.

For more information on plant selection and placement, irrigation systems and ways to help you have a beautiful, low-maintenance Florida yard, check out Florida Water StarSM and find tips on our website.

See our past stories